*MOVIE RECAP: COMING 2 AMERICA

Ok, sad to say this but Coming 2 America sucks ass — It is a terrible sequel, and it failed to live up to the greatness of the original Coming to America movie (1988).

First of all, Coming to America is a classic comedy; if it’s on TV when I’m browsing through channels, I always stop and watch it, regardless of how deep in the story the movie might be on. The original was rated R, and this sequel is PG-13, a major red flag right off the get-go.

Our old friend Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) from the fictional African kingdom of Zamunda is now king, and Lisa (Shari Headley) is the Queen; they have three young daughters. The central plot conflict here is that their marriage has not given them a male heir, which tradition dictates that only a male heir can lay claim to the throne of Zamunda.

Warlord General Izzy (Wesley Snipes) from a neighboring nation wants to marry his son with one of Akeem’s daughters to unite both kingdoms, bring peace, and avoid war. Obviously, King Akeem, Queen Lisa, and their daughters are opposed to this idea.

Akeem discovers that he has a son living in New York from a wild one-night stand during Akeem’s first visit to New York City. So now, presented with this new fact, Akeem decides to return to Queens in search of his long-lost son and convince him to take his rightful place as the future ruler of Zamunda.

Returning to NY, Akeem tracks down his illegitimate son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and convinces him to move to Zamunda. But first, Lavelle will need to go through a training and learning process before establishing him as the future heir to the throne.

From this point on, whatever little promise this movie initially showed goes completely over a cliff.

Akeem becomes just another character here. The premise of this sequel entirely undoes Akeem’s journey of self-discovery from the original movie. Prince Akeem discovered something about himself through his 1988 journey while living and working in New York City, which he seemed to utterly forget 33 years later. His trip to America was also fun and hilarious, with the whole fish out of water angle. He was so unaware of the real world, hell-bent on finding his future wife in Queens. King Akeem spends almost no time in Queens or in NYC, which contradicts this sequel’s title. Maybe they should’ve just called this movie “Zamunda” or “Coming to Zamunda” instead of Coming 2 America.

I wanted to see a lot more of Semmi (Arsenio Hall), and we don’t really get much of him this time around. Wesley Snipes is hilarious; there is a level of Pageantry to his performance — I can tell he was having a blast with this role. Plus, the chemistry between Murphy and Snipes is excellent, probably my favorite thing from this movie.

Jermaine Fowler needed more time to develop his Lavelle character, similar to how Akeem was developed in the original film. Also, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan are annoying as fuck, especially with what they are given to work within their characters.

This next generation of Zamunda rulers was also poorly developed. And the jokes delivered by the new cast members don’t hit at all and fall flat…. I think I laughed once and chuckled a few times throughout the whole thing.

Nevertheless, the throwbacks to the original film are pretty cool. Watching John Amos, James Earl Jones, and Louie Anderson return was pure nostalgic awesomeness. I wished Eriq La Salle (Darryl) and Allison Dean (Patrice) had returned in some capacity.

It was great seeing the Barbershop guys back, you know, the old characters played by Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy. Although, it is hard to believe that those guys could still look the same as they did in ’88 or even be alive 33 years later. But hey, sometimes you have to suspend disbelief and go along for the sake of mindless entertainment.

Now, here is the potentially redeeming storyline if this coming to America franchise continues—so hear me out.

Colin Jost shows up early in this movie, playing Mr. Duke, a direct relative of the Duke Brothers from Eddie Murphy’s first film, Trading Places (1983). The Duke Brothers (Don Ameche & Ralph Bellamy) had an important cameo in Coming to America, which brilliantly ended up linking the Trading Places slash Coming to America universes together. And, if they continue to build upon this connection, therein lies the makings of a potential reboot of those two movie universes. Get Dan Akroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Eddie Murphy on board, and here we go.

Despite taking 33 years to make this sequel, Coming 2 America is a sequel that we did not really need or wanted but expected to be better. It simply does not have the long-lasting comedic effect that the original 1988 movie had. Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a shameless exercise of fan service. Hell, I even welcome those types of movies from time to time. However, this movie just did not quite work for me. It is definitely a more family-friendly movie. But still, it comes off as lazy, unfunny, and not as edgy as the original.

One out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿

Coming 2 America (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: THE SOUND OF METAL

Some movies need time to settle in your mind to fully digest and reflect on what you have seen… maybe even watching them a couple of times is required. For me, Sound of Metal is one of those movies.

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and Lou (Olivia Cooke) are rock musicians touring the United States — they live and drive from show to show in an RV. It seems like their whole life is in their RV.

Pretty soon into the story, Ruben notices that his hearing is weakening, and all of the sounds around him are beginning to sound muffled. He hides this fact from Lou and continues with concert gigs, hoping things will return to normal at some point.

Ruben consults with a doctor who breaks the bad news that his hearing is deteriorating rapidly — the doctor tells him that his first responsibility is to protect the hearing he has left. Ruben completely disregards this advice and continues playing another concert gig.

During their next concert, his hearing deteriorates to the point where Ruben can no longer keep up with the show and rushes off the stage. He now has no choice but to come clean to Lou and explain the situation regarding his hearing loss.

Ruben’s life and his entire sense of self are completely changed almost overnight. He has to face some complex decisions moving forward. Playing the drums and continuing with the rest of the concert dates are no longer an option. Ruben believes he can still manage and work around his deafness; however, Lou disagrees and urges Ruben to get some professional help.

Here is where Joe (Paul Raci) enters Ruben’s life. Joe is a Vietnam War vet who runs a community home for deaf people. In this community, they do not see deafness as a disability or as something to be fixed. They see deafness as a concept of empowerment.

Joe has very strict rules for joining his community home. Ruben has to move in, learn ASL and begin the process of learning how to live with his new reality. Ruben also has to give up the keys to his RV, his cell phone and be completely away from Lou during his time in the program.

Ruben’s whole life is turned upside down; his music, lifestyle, and relationship have all fallen apart. He is now forced to look deep within himself in the wake of this trauma. He is holding on to the hope of regaining his hearing. The prospect of receiving implants through surgery is his last hope for things to go back to normal. And he is willing to risk it all for the return of his old way of life.

Riz Ahmed is exceptional here, delivering a soulful performance. He conveys so many emotions with his eyes and face — through his eyes, you can see this tortured, wounded soul. Riz Ahmed brilliantly portrays the rage and bewilderment of Ruben losing his livelihood. I heard that Ahmed actually learned to play drums and learned American sign language preparing for this role.

Paul Raci is outstanding here, delivering an authentic and human performance. Joe provides tough love and raw honesty to Ruben in every scene they are in together. A well-deserved Academy Award nomination for best-supporting actor. I am excited to see where the success of this performance takes Paul Raci next.

This movie is a fascinating exploration about a person attempting to put his life back together after losing his reason for living. The film takes you inside the central character’s experience while crafting a world where the details are as accurate as possible. The subtle things done with the sound effects are remarkable. The specific details of the deaf community are well executed.

The Sound of Metal is essentially a story about identity and loss. One of the most thoughtful, well-made movies of the year. An extraordinary achievement by Director Darius Marder, showing us what cinema can still do when passionate, creative filmmakers are allowed to put forth their vision.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Sound of Metal (2020).

*TV SERIES RECAP: HUNTERS

Hunters is an over the top TV series that brings an alternate version of history with some real historical facts sprinkled throughout its fictional plot. The show takes on historical facts like the Holocaust, World War II, and Operation Paperclip — it takes all those historical facts, and it reimagines them as a TV series along similar lines as Inglorious Basterds.

The opening scene in the first episode is outstanding, and it gives you a taste of what to expect from this show in terms of over the top violence. The entire first episode feels like a movie — in the sense that the first episode is about 1 hour and 29 minutes long — All the remaining episodes are roughly about an hour.

Set in 1978, New York City, we have young Jonah (Logan Lerman), who works at a comic bookstore and lives in Brooklyn with his Holocaust-survivor grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin). Ruth is murdered inside their home; Jonah witnesses the murder but fails to stop the killer. At her funeral, Jonah begins to suspect that grandma had a separate life from the one she lived at home. Soon, he discovers that grandma was a secret member of an underground Nazi-hunting organization.

We get to see how Nazi war criminals and many Nazi scientists were brought to the United States under US government protection and given high-level jobs after World War II. And now, years after the war ended, these same Nazi war criminals are being recognized by Holocaust survivors in random cities throughout the United States.

Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino) leads a team of Nazi Hunters, hell-bent on tracking down leads and executing justice in violently imaginative ways. Al Pacino seems to be having a blast with this role. I enjoyed his performance.

The Nazi hunters’ team is an interesting one; we have the fantastic husband/wife team of Murray (Saul Rubinek) and Mindy (Carol Kane); their backstory is super compelling. Roxy (Tiffany Boone) is a foxy brown type of character. Lonny (Josh Radnor) is a cool, sophisticated, and fun-loving actor who specializes in disguises. Joe (Louis Ozawa), a combat expert and Vietnam vet who has PTSD. Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvaney) a nun and a former British agent. This nun character is the most mysterious in the group. She seems to be regularly reporting on the progress the Nazi hunters are making to someone on the phone.

We also have Millie (Jerrika Hinton), an FBI agent. She begins to connect the dots between the random killings of German-born US citizens and realizes that all these killings are somehow connected. All of the victims seem to have a mysterious past—she soon discovers that these murder victims were former Nazi war criminals living in the US. In some cases, they were living under new identities given to them by the US government.

The Colonel (Lena Olin) and Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker) are excellent villains. However, the character by the name of Travis (Greg Austin) stands out as one of the most remorseless and terrifying villains of recent memory.

Hunters is a daring show that goes into dark places; It deals with white supremacy rising from the shadows and how these Nazis had a plan to infiltrate US institutions of government and fields of science, politics, religion, technology, and business. There is a long game at play here for these Nazis, in which they will destroy the United States from the inside and give rise to a fourth Reich.

In a nutshell, Hunters is a well-made and entertaining comic book style show about Nazi hunters. If you are a fan of Tarantino movies or even the Kingsman movies, you will probably appreciate what this show attempts to do. I enjoyed it and looking forward to season 2.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

HUNTERS (2020). Streaming on Prime.

*TV SERIES RECAP: CARNIVAL ROW (Season 1)

I have been on a continuous roll for the past four months, catching up with movies and TV series in my seemingly never-ending “To Watch List.” Which seems never to stop growing.

Carnival Row was a captivating delight to binge-watch. Episodes are roughly about an hour-long with only 8 episodes, so it was easy for me to power through the first season in a couple of sittings.

It is essentially a period drama within a fantasy world — set in a fictional city called The Burge, within a fictional timeline (7th century in their world). The Burge closely resembles 19th-century Victorian-era London.

We have Faeries or Fae creatures — They are mystical creatures whose homeland has been ravaged by war, forcing them to flee as refugees to the Burge. We also have Faun creatures, half-human, half-goat beings. Faun and Faeries live as refugees within the Carnival Row district of the Burge, which is commonly known as the “Row.”

There are many fantasy elements sprinkled throughout the series, most notably witchcraft and dark magic; still, this is not a high magical show or even a high fantasy show like, say, Penny Dreadful. But, there is a multi-genre feel to it.

One of the main characters in the series is a Fae called Vignette (Cara Delevigne); she arrives at the Burge fleeing her homeland. She has a complicated history with the other main character of the series, Philo (Orlando Bloom), a police inspector in the Burge, who has a soft spot for Faes.

Philo is tasked with investigating a string of gruesome murders…. Murders that humans are placing blame on the immigrant community that lives within the “Row.” Immigration, Racism, and xenophobia are central themes here.

There is a bit of slow pace and plenty of exposition in the first two episodes; however, by the third episode, things pick up. The third episode is essentially a flashback episode where we learn a little bit about the Fae myths. You get to see the Fairy temple where Philo and Vignette first met, and you get a better understanding of where the story is heading.

Orlando Bloom has found an excellent TV role here. I have been a fan of his work for a long time…. I am always recommending Kingdom of Heaven (2005); I think it is a highly underrated film and one of the best films made within the last 20 years, but make sure you watch the Director’s cut, it is one of Ridley Scott’s finest achievements as a filmmaker, and Bloom delivers one exceptional performance.

The whole show is obviously well put together; I can tell that the production value was pretty high. The sets and customs are excellent. I enjoyed the dialogue, and the casting is perfect. Jared Harris (Absalom) is always great in everything he is in, and he is great here also. I have been a fan of Simon McBurney (Runyon) for many years now, and I am static to see that he will be a series regular.

The character of Imogen (Tamzin Merchant) had the most compelling character arc in the entire first season. She starts as this upper-class snob, and over the course of the story, she evolves into a more progressive-minded person. Tamzin Merchant has a solid and charismatic screen presence—looking forward to seeing more of her character next season.

There is one pretty fantastic Faery sex scene that stands out from all the rest. The depiction of life at the Row was remarkable. It was grim and dark…. The crime syndicates running things, the street markets, the brothels, and the prostitution…. it showed all the undignified aspects of their everyday immigrant life.

Like I said before, Immigration is at the core of it all here. The show tackles Immigration, racism, and xenophobia in an unapologetic straightforward manner. They are using a fantasy format to expose a significant and relevant issue. The Burge is a place where regular humans hold all the power, and the mystical creatures are viewed as lesser beings, and this show forces you to look at racism through a fantasy lens. It reminds me of late 19th century to early 20th century New York City. And the peak of European Immigration and all the xenophobic and anti-immigrant climate of the era.

Carnival Row is a phenomenal show that surpassed my expectations; it was a fun and entertaining binging experience. And I am pleased to hear that it is getting a second season.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

Carnival Row (Season 1). Streaming on Prime

*TV SERIES RECAP: MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL (Season 1, 2 & 3)

If I had known how delightful this series was going to be and how much I would enjoy it, then I would have jumped on it much earlier. Although weirdly enough, I am glad it took me this long to binge through the entire first three seasons — it took me about two weeks to power through all 26 episodes. I Binge-watched at least two episodes every evening for two weeks straight.

Ever since MAD MEN came to an end, I have been craving for another well-made, engaging throwback series set in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is precisely that show.

New York, New York, Baby! We get a heavy dosage of my beloved city, which is the principal setting for the series. Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is an Upper West Side Manhattan housewife who stumbles into standup comedy by accident. Domestic life is not something she is excited about. Midge also seems ambivalent about motherhood, plus her husband has left her for his secretary. She has no choice but to pursue a living and become independent of her husband. Comedy was not a career you would seek out in the ’50s, but Mrs. Maisel pursues it against all the odds. And throughout the first three seasons, we get to see her honing and shaping her standup skills.

Hard to avoid the parallels with Joan Rivers and how Rivers began to make her mark in standup comedy in the 1950s. Even the way Rivers would dress on stage is almost identical. Perhaps Joan Rivers is a loose inspiration for Mrs. Maisel, but the similarities are definitely there.

The series leans pretty heavy on New York Jewish culture. They are depicting particular aspects of everyday life during that period. We see how much value and effort Midge puts into her appearance: She measures her body proportions every single day, tracking them religiously. The vanity aspect is a big part of the series. The effort women made to look good, even at home, striving to always look their best, like putting on makeup right before going to sleep. Midge works hard at her beauty, and her beautiful dresses are an extension of the character’s personality.

The casting is perfect. Midge’s business manager Susie (Alex Borstein), is excellent; her street-smart personality complements Midge nicely. Susie’s character development is equally as crucial as Mrs. Maisel’s. Although Susie is not as attractive as Midge and has a rougher personality still, Susie has to find ways to navigate similar issues and difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated 1950s world.

Midge’s father, Abe Weissman (Tony Shaloub), is a complex character, just as compelling as Midge. The ensemble of supporting characters is fantastic: Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle), Moishe Maisel (Kevin Pollak), and Shirley Maisel (Caroline Aaron) are all hilarious in every scene they appear together.

Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby)

Luke Kirby, like Lenny Bruce, is phenomenal; I feel like he should have his own spin-off biopic and expand further on the legendary comic. Jane Lynch (Sophie Lennon) became one of my favorite characters, glad she became a regular as the series progressed. Midge’s husband, Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen), is pretty engaging enough that I kept finding myself rooting for him to make things work with Midge.

The writing is exceptional. I admire the distinct look and feel of the show; the colors and period sets are gorgeous. The garment district warehouse scenes are well executed. The particular showbiz aspect of the period is fascinating.

Rachel Brosnahan is now a star; her performance exudes charisma. I am sure Mrs. Maisel’s journey in the series will eventually lead her into the Johnny Carson show and possibly the infamous Johnny Carson couch.

Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen), Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel cannot escape criticism for ignoring and pushing aside specific cultural issues of the period. Picking and choosing which battles to fight and showcase is totally the showrunners’ prerogative. However, the show is set during a crucial time in the history of the United States. A higher level of seriousness and sensitivity should be applied when dealing with real-life issues.

I realize that this type of show is now considered to be a “dramedy” style show; nonetheless, Mrs. Maisel has a unique opportunity here to tackle some crucial issues in upcoming seasons and remain as charming and entertaining as the first three seasons have been. While at the same time figuring out ways to be more grounded in reality.

The way season three unfolded and ended gave the writers and producers of this show a unique opportunity to highlight some of Midge’s obvious character flaws and address those flaws and her lack of sensitivity and urgency towards real-life issues in a more profound manner. Let us hope that is the route they decide to take.

Extremely excited for season four…

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 1,2 & 3). Streaming on Prime

*MOVIE RECAP: THE VAST OF NIGHT

The more I think about this movie, the more I like it. THE VAST OF NIGHT feels like a familiar sci-fi story: Smalltown USA, cold war 1950s vibe, sightings in the sky, mysterious radio signals, and two kids as the central characters….. plus, the whole thing takes place in one single night.

Apparently, this film was rejected by a bunch of film festivals before finding a spot with Amazon Studios. It was pretty remarkable to hear how first-time writer-director Andrew Patterson self-funded this film.

We have Everett (Jake Horowitz), a local teenage radio DJ who plans to get out of this small town and make it in LA, where big things are happening in radio. We have Fay (Sierra McCormick), a high schooler who works as a telephone switchboard operator. She has no concrete plans of leaving her small-town life and feels like she is stuck there with no college prospects.

The chemistry between Fay and Everett is excellent; there is this platonic thing going on that works great. Sierra McCormick is remarkable in all her scenes; she has this unique and subtle screen presence — there is this cool scene early in the film where Everett and Fay are walking together, discussing the technology of the future. I thought that was a well-executed scene.

Fay picks up a strange noise while working at the switchboard, which coincides with sudden blackouts that seem out of the norm for this town. Pretty soon, both Fay and Everett realize something strange and unexplained is happening.

There is a mysterious phone call to the radio station from Billy (Bruce Davis), a former member of the military. This caller has first-hand knowledge of those strange signals and alludes to having been part of a secret government project. He reveals that personnel chosen to work on those secret projects were all Black or Mexican to ensure nobody will take them seriously if they ever try to go public.

Then, we have Mabel (Gail Cronauer), an elderly lady who calls Fay and Everett and tells them that she also has knowledge of these strange signals and requests to meet with them in person at her home.

I admire how this movie was shot — there are many interesting, complex shots, long takes, and tracking shots that worked nicely. The cars, the clothes, and even the eyeglasses worn by the characters capture the vibe of the 50s beautifully. The whole Twilight Zone, Outer Limits mood, is skillfully done. Even the name of the radio station is pretty neat; WOTW …. (War of the Worlds?).

But what I found most refreshing was how there is this sociopolitical theme building slowly underneath the story. We have two white teens coming into contact with two black characters who have direct knowledge of this phenomenon, but nobody will take them seriously due to their social status.

True lovers of cinema will undoubtedly enjoy this movie. It is an excellent alternative from all those mainstream movies out there.

The Vast of Night is a perfect example of how low-budget, independent, self-funded films can be well made and find an eager audience. Aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters, such as myself, should pay close attention to this film.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

THE VAST OF NIGHT (2019) Streaming on Prime

*Movie Recap: Marriage Story and The Report

MARRIAGE STORY  (2019, Streaming on Netflix)

Marriage Story.

Noah Baumbach is known for making captivating, charming, ambitious, and complex films. Marriage Story is another achievement for this brilliant director. I think of this movie as a divorce love story. A movie that deals with the disintegration of marriage — the undoing of a family and the perils of the legal aspects of divorce. Adam Driver plays Charlie a New York theatre company director struggling to balance his work life in NYC and the separation from his wife Nicole, (Scarlet Johansson), who has moved back to California to continue to pursue her acting career. Charlie commutes to the west coast to spend time with his son and wife as often as possible. Both Charlie and Nicole had initially agreed not to involve lawyers in their separation. Still, Nicole decides to move forward by hiring a divorce lawyer and serve Charlie divorce papers, and the custody battle for their son Henry ensues. Laura Dern plays Nora, Nicole’s divorce attorney, Laura Dern’s performance steals the movie. Ray Liotta is hilarious as a high power divorce attorney representing Charlie.

You can’t ignore the parallels of this movie and Baumbach’s personal life and his divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh. The acting here is some of the best movie acting in all 2019. At the end of the movie, I could not help but feel invested and caring for these people and root for them to make things work. 

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags. 🍿🍿🍿

THE REPORT (2019, Streaming on Prime)

The Report.

The Report is a political thriller in the spirit of “All the President’s Men,” or “Syriana,” and even Spielberg’s “The Post.” It feels like some of those investigative true story political dramas made or set in the 70s. However, this movie is based on current events that are still pretty much relevant today. The coverup and the public relations propaganda regarding “enhanced interrogation techniques” and the misinformation of its results and ineffectiveness fed to the public are at the center of this film. Adam Driver delivers another outstanding performance playing Daniel Jones, a senate staffer working for Senator Dianne Feinstein, played by Annette Being, who delivers an excellent and award-worthy performance. Jones is tasked with leading an investigation into the CIA torture practices after 9/11 and deliver his findings in a report to the senate committee on intelligence. We, the audience, get to follow Daniel Jones on an atmospheric and claustrophobic investigation as he uncovers truth after truth, which took him seven years to piece together. 

HBO was supposed to make this movie, but for some reason, they decided against it. Remarkably, It was made in 26 days for a fraction of the original budget. Director Scott Z. Burns has made a very significant movie here, and in a way, a history lesson that should not be forgotten. Vice (2018) attempted to achieve something similar, but this movie goes deeper into the ineffectiveness of the CIA torture practices. I don’t feel that anyone is painted as a real villain in this movie, every character seems to believe that their cause is righteous, and acting according to what they presume is in the best interest to national security. Of course, we now have the benefit of looking back on those years and realizing that wasn’t the case. Movies like The Report and Vice keep those events from fading away into the abyss of memory.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags. 🍿🍿🍿